I’m not entirely sure when I first really thought about foster parenting but I am sure it had to do with my love for super hero stories.
Whether it was Kal-El fleeing his home planet and being found by Martha and Jonathan who raise him to become the hero earth needs.
Or Bruce Wayne who loses both parents in a brutal murder and dedicates himself to fighting for justice. Or Peter Parker who loses both parents and is raised by Aunt May and becomes a crime fighting hero in NYC.
The idea of a kid who can endure such significant adversity but can overcome it to become a hero has always been a common theme in super hero movies. And while flying, x-ray vision and vigilante justice all sound fun, I always thought the part where people were loved into being the best they can be was something I could actually do.
I have always thought that everybody deserves to have someone who really believes in you, never gives up on you, and loves you towards healing. And I have always been dumb enough to think why not me.
Somewhere along the way I encountered foster care. And I didn’t really understand it, and I definitely asked a lot of dumb questions and made even dumber assumptions. But seeing in real life people believe in and love and root for kids was amazing. This is what I want to do with my life.
So I went and did it. There’s commitment. There’s scrutiny. There should be scrutiny. I’m raising someone else’s kid. I should try my best, and learn from my failures, and be able to explain every decision to a whole team of people.
I should cherish the victories — because they are few and so very delayed — but so sweet when they come.
I am stubborn — you have to be. I have wanted to quit nearly fifty-million times. I would love to quit, I would love nothing more than to walk away and never do this again. It is a burden to come alongside someone hurting and to share in their pain (even in such small ways). And when it is too much and all I can think about is quitting — I think about how this kid didn’t choose the pain in their life and I can’t quit on them. I think about what a wonderful future they will have if they just don’t give up.
And if they can’t give up — neither can I.
Honestly. It’s the best worst thing I have ever done. My kids’ stories are not mine to tell but if there’s anything I could do to go back and ensure they never had to deal with what they did, I would do it without hesitation. The next best thing I can think of is to show up, never give up, and always love them towards healing.
May is foster care month, and many people reading this are going to have different experiences with foster care ranging from the ignorant, to the abusive, to the positive to everything in between. I don’t think everyone should be foster parents — there are too many bad ones as it is — but goodness gracious could we ever use a lot more good ones. And, in my opinion, being good is mostly about not quitting, not being too self-interested, and loving kids towards healing.
Anyone can help. Everyone can do something. You need not turn your world upside down and become a foster parent, but can you do something simple for those who do? Here are a few ideas:
- Find your local CASA organization. Offer them toys, backpacks, school supplies, tickets to your local water park, or a donation. Our kids’ CASAs have been amazing and have connected them to awesome experiences that let them just be kids.
- Find a local foster closet and sign up to be notified when families need clothes, school supplies or even furniture like beds and dressers.
- Check to see if there are any kids nite out programs where you live. You can hang out and provide childcare for families so they can have a night away and know their kids are well-cared for.
- Support the expansion of Medicaid by calling your state legislators. It’s literally been a life-saver for us and we’ve spent a total of something like $4 in out of pocket medical costs since we started fostering. No family should wonder how they will pay for expensive medical costs.
- Check with your local agency or county to see if there are things they need help with, especially for things like supermarket/gas gift cards. With food and gas so expensive, sometimes families can be right on the edge of making it and a little help on gas can make all the difference.
- If you know a foster family, offer to hang out with their kids, bring them food, mow their lawn or other practical help. We are (or at least, I am) often very bad at allowing other people to help, but you never know when it could be so timely.
And finally, if you do want to foster, I couldn’t recommend it more. Work on yourself, prepare for a roller coaster that won’t let you go, and just never give up and you’ll make it. And, please, don’t overlook the older kids. Their behaviors and histories will sound scary, but fostering teens has been the highlight of my life. And while I have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about my boys, or sitting in an ER waiting for the doc, I’ve gotten way more sleep and changed far fewer diapers then most parents.